“Josie and the Pussycats” is kind of a “They Live” of its sub-genre, taking a cute premise and turning it on its head to show a decent rock trio and how they become consumed by corporations, merchandising, and the all consuming hunger of the fans that follow. Sadly in 2001, the world was inundated with endless boy bands and pop princesses, all of whom were Caucasian, very blond, and very young, and were always on MTV grinning and getting their fans to spend, spend, spend. So, “Josie and the Pussycats” sadly got lost in the shuffle considered something of a celebration of consumerism, when really it kind of mocked the whole idea.
After the newest hot boy band Du Jour dies mysteriously in a plane crash, slimy music mogul Wyatt Frame discovers local rock trio the Pussycats. Thrusting them in to fame, and rocketing them in celebrity royalty, the Pussycats—or as he renames them: Josie and the Pussycats—learn the horrifying highs and lows of success. But Frame and the manager of their record company Fiona have plans for the Pussycats involving subliminal messages and turning America’s youth in to spending zombies for in vogue merchandise. There is a product placement in almost every frame of the movie, and though it was presumably intended as social satire, audiences simply didn’t get it. Looking back on it, the concept of the running joke still kind of misses the mark mainly because corporations are still trying harder than ever to squeeze in advertising whenever they can.
To add to the confusion, the movie also squeezes in a reference to (then) popular TV host Carson Daly and cast member Tara Reid, both of whom were dating at the time. So is the pairing in Daly’s brief walk on a subtle commentary to our obsession with pseudo-celebrities, or are they just referencing two people who were once a very brief hot tabloid headline? The intentions just come off fuzzy, thus the jokes never land as they should. The cast all do bang up jobs, including the titular trio of Rachel Leigh Cooke, (then) newcomer Rosario Dawson, and Tara Reid. Dawson even takes the kind of bland character of Val and transforms her in to a level headed moral center of the group. Whenever they’re being pulled in to one direction, she questions why, and this becomes an obstacle for the villains of the film.
Rachel Leigh Cooke also adds an understated charm to Josie adding to the fish out of water dynamic the writers inject. I also really enjoy Alan Cumming who can typically play these kinds of roles in his sleep. It’s too bad that even in 2001, “Josie and the Pussycats” was a little too ahead of its time, since it thinks outside the box in terms of adapting a classic comic strip (I love the animated series, and I don’t care who knows it). It adheres to the source material but subvert expectations by holding up a mirror on a certain point in society. It asks its audience to carve out their own identity, and think of materialism and consumerism as more background music, than something that defines existence. “Josie and the Pussycats” is not a great movie, but it’s a solid musical comedy with some guaranteed chuckles, a great cast, and an admirable wit.